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Last updated: Sep 22nd, 2014


Depression is a mood, condition, or mental disorder characterized by persistent low mood, negative feelings, and loss of motivation and enjoyment of life. Depression also manifests itself in actions: withdrawing from activities, and closing off from other people. The term depression encompasses many different named psychological disorders, such as major depressive disorder, minor depressive disorder, and dysthymia. These disorders overlap a fair amount, and there is a degree to which the very definitions of these conditions as distinct categories is highly subjective. Depression also overlaps a great deal with anxiety, as the two conditions often feed off each other.

Causes of Depression

Nearly all "causes" of depression are also results or symptoms of depression.

The mind and body are complex systems with numerous feedback loops. Rather than thinking of causes of depression in terms of a root cause that results in depression in an A->B manner, I find it more constructive to think of depression as a state that the mind (and body) is in. Depression has numerous factors that feed into it, and it also produces numerous symptoms or results. Most of these factors are both symptoms and causes, creating feedback cycles that cause the depression to persist. For example:

As one quickly sees by examining these potential "causes" of depression, nearly all the possible causes of depression are also results or symptoms of depression. Each of these factors exists within some sort of feedback loop: depression causes a certain state in the mind, body, or life of a depressed person, and then that state in turn causes the depression to persist.

Curing, Preventing, or Overcoming Depression

People are often discouraged or overwhelmed by the fact that depression seems to be such a complex, nebulous condition that has so many different causes and symptoms. Because depression is reinforced by a number of strong feedback cycles, it can seem difficult to break out of. However, the fact that depression has so many causes, and that nearly all of the causes exist in the context of feedback loops, can also be empowering, for the following reasons:

Immediate Relief from Depression

Most forms of therapy and drug-based approaches to treating depression take considerable time to work. While these approaches are helpful for some individuals, they are not always the best approach, and even when they are used, some other approaches are often warranted to provide immediate relief. Even if you take antidepressants, you are always going to be better off if you take multiple other approaches to overcoming depression. I have found the following approaches to provide the strongest and most immediate relief from depression:

Long-term treatment for depression

I tend to be skeptical of drug-based approaches to depression. These approaches may help some people but I think they tend to be unnecessary in most cases, and I also think they tend to act slowly as well as not doing anything in the long-run (once the drugs are discontinued).

I find some forms of therapy, capably executed, can be very helpful for depression. I recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but I want to emphasize that many types of therapy claim to be based on CBT because CBT is well-regarded by science and by the public. But not all approaches claiming to be influenced by CBT actually embody the core approach of it. I recommend to seek out actual CBT practitioners rather than people who merely claim to be influenced by CBT or use it as one technique among many.

Diet is very important in treating depression. In some cases, improvement in diet alone can provide substantial relief of depression. Diet is one important factor to consider in the long-term prevention of depression and maintenance of good long-term health of both mind and body. Learning how and where to buy healthy foods for a reasonable price, and how to prepare tasty healthy foods, are both key ingredients in the process of learning to eat a healthy diet.

Further Resources

I also maintain a page on how to help someone with depression which is oriented to people who are not themselves struggling with depression, but who wish to help someone close to them who is.

For a radio program about depression, I recommend Combating Depression With Meditation, Diet which is an interview with Dr. Andrew Weil on NPR.

There are numerous outstanding web resources about depression. I recommend the following pages:

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